Election 2018News

Democrat elected to H.D. 18 must correct campaign finance violations

Author: Conrad Swanson - November 8, 2018 - Updated: November 8, 2018

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Pete Lee, left, and Marc Snyder greet each other after the polls close at the El Paso Democratic Watch Party in the Gold Room in Colorado Springs on Nov. 6. (Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Gazette)

The Democrat elected Tuesday in the three-way Colorado House District 18 race has two weeks to correct campaign finance violations, the Secretary of State’s Elections Division determined.

But reported violations committed by the organizations backing his unaffiliated opponent, who received a fraction of the vote, remain in murky waters.

That Democrat, Marc Snyder, earned 57.43 percent of the vote, the Secretary of State’s Office reported. His Republican opponent and a latecomer to the race, Mary Elizabeth Fabian, garnered 36.4 percent of the vote while the unaffiliated candidate collected only 6.17 percent of the vote.

A Colorado Springs attorney filed a complaint  last month with the Secretary of State’s Office claiming that Snyder, failed to be fully transparent with his campaign’s finances, illegally accepted contributions from businesses and illegally accepted contributions exceeding the $400 limit set by the state.

Snyder said Monday that one reported violation was clearly incorrect while the others amounted to clerical errors and were immediately fixed.

“We have cured everything, we did all that literally the next day,” Snyder said. “We actually have prepared a formal response for the Secretary of State. We prepared our own, but just to be completely sure we have an election attorney reviewing it.”

Snyder has until Nov. 16 to resolve any “reporting deficiencies” and to dispute any other allegations, the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office determined Thursday.

On the other hand, that same office passed another complaint – filed in September against Unite Colorado, Unite America and the Unite America Election Fund – to an administrative law judge.

Those organizations backed Foster, alongside four other candidates also seeking office in the state House or Senate.

None of those five unaffiliated candidates emerged victorious in their respective races Tuesday.

The complaint, filed by a Denver election law attorney, claims that the organizations did not follow disclosure requirements and contribution limits while advocating for each of the candidates they’ve endorsed.

While those organizations, formerly known as the Centrist Project, supported Foster’s campaign, no complaints were filed against Foster herself, said Andrew Short, campaign spokesman.

Unite America representatives maintain the complaint is frivolous.

“While there remains no determination of the validity of the complaint, we welcome a full and formal hearing of the facts to put these questions to rest,” said spokesman Kyle Butts. “We are confident that this misinformed complaint, originally filed by a partisan lawyer as a political tactic to stifle new competition from independent candidates, will be dismissed.”

Such can not be said for Snyder’s campaign, Short said.

“There has been a verdict on Marc Snyder’s complaint. And he violated campaign finance laws,” Short said. “That’s cut and dry. The verdict was reached so quickly because he committed such a clear violation of Colorado campaign finance laws.”

But Snyder maintains his violations were unintentional.

On multiple occasions, Snyder’s expenditures, filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, failed to identify certain purchases as “electioneering communications.” Other reported contributions from limited liability companies failed to include the owner of the company.

Snyder said those purchases are now properly marked. As it turned out, several limited liability companies that donated to his campaign were owned by the same person, so two checks exceeding the state’s $400 contribution limit were returned.

Another reported violation noted that Chris Cummings from El Paso, Texas, donated more than that $400 limit. But Snyder said Cummings is actually two people: His father-in law, Chris Cummings Sr., and his brother-in-law, Chris Cummings Jr.

Both Cummings donated $400 each, but did not exceed the state’s contribution limits, Snyder said.

The same quick fixes are unlikely an option for the reported violations committed by Unite Colorado and the Unite America Election Fund, Snyder said, calling the relationship worrisome.

“It just seems very closely held and not transparent with Unite Colorado, exactly what their relationship is with the candidates,” Snyder said. “And I think everybody would like to have more light shed upon the exact relationship between those Unite Colorado entities.”

There is some merit to the complaint, which is why it was passed to an administrative law judge, said Melissa Polk, of the Secretary of State’s Election Division. The judge is in a better position to determine whether any campaign finance laws were violated.

“It really puts the issue in front of a fact finder,” Polk said.

Fines can be levied against the organization for violations, even after the election, Polk said. And if no laws were violated, then the case can be dropped.

Conrad Swanson

Conrad Swanson